By Julie Hagy, contributor
Sex trafficking occurs in towns and cities all over the United States, and in 2018, the Human Trafficking Institute found that Virginia ranked 6th in the nation for cases of human trafficking. Statistics are hard to come by – oftentimes victims are moved from place to place, or it may be termed prositution if a link to a trafficker cannot be made – advocates say there’s no doubt it is a problem in Harrisonburg as well. And that’s why Sabrina Dorman-Andrew, co-founder and director of New Creation, a local anti-sex trafficking nonprofit, is trying to get prevention curriculum implemented in local schools.
Since starting the organization in 2015, Dorman-Andrew has been approached by local citizens who have been victims of sex trafficking. But for the most part, she sees the issue as absent from public dialogue. Dorman-Andrew believes media and culture have misportrayed sex trafficking to the general public, and wants to raise awareness through education.
“It could be a kid that goes to school and lives at home and gets trafficked every day,” said Harrisonburg Police Department Detective Greg Miller.
Miller, a former school resource officer, witnessed students being inappropriately approached through social media outlets and has since dedicated his career to protecting minors. Among his other responsiblities, Miller trains officers and school officials alike on the indicators of sex trafficking.
“The biggest thing is to report any kind of behavior that is concerning,” he said.
The Prevention Project, a middle- and high school curriculum developed by the Richmond Justice Initiative, to educate students on both sex trafficking and the broader issue of human trafficking, is being implemented in schools across the nation. Lessons designed by survivors, law enforcement, and educators, address topics such as healthy relationships and safe usage of social media, as well as help students and school staff recognize the warning signs of trafficking.
The high school version of The Prevention Project curriculum consists of six 40-50 minute lessons, while the middle school version is available in two or six lessons, which are grade specific.
“The best way for students to engage with the issue is in their classrooms with teachers they trust,” said Dorman-Andrew.
Getting local schools to adopt the curriculum, however, has been more of a struggle than Dorman-Andrew anticipated. The Prevention Project was originally piloted in a few schools in 2012. In 2014, it was released for districts across the nation, and Dorman-Andrew began her advocacy for the curriculum locally. A cultural stigma around discussing sex in the classroom has been an obstacle, she says, and now, so are the unique scheduling challenges presented by virtual learning.
Rockingham County Public Schools currently addresses human trafficking with students, although not thorugh The Prevention Program curriculum, said Larry Shifflett, assistant superintendent of innovation and learning. Shifflett said district personnel were in discussion about that with Dorman-Andrew earlier this year, prior to schools shifting to the current virtual model.
Shifflett says the district plans to consider the program again. That consideration may include conversation with Page County Public Schools, which is now in its third year of teaching The Prevention Project curriculum to all middle and high school students.
Last school year, Harrisonburg City Public Schools formed a committee to look at the district’s Family Life programming – which included review of The Prevention Program.
“The committee took a look (at the curriculum). We have found many positives,” said April Howards, the district’s chief officer for student support.
It is unknown when the committee will make its recommendations or if The Prevention Program will be among them.
Help from JMU?
This spring, Dorman-Andrew discussed the challenges she has faced in getting local schools to adopt the program with students at JMU’s X-Labs. Dorman-Andrews was seeking the lab’s support in identifying barriers and solutions to getting the curriculum in local schools.
Cathy Copeland, a professor of writing and rhetoric at JMU, helped support the team of cross-disciplinary students working with Dorman-Andrews and other community members on the issue.
“We can’t be afraid to talk about human trafficking,” said Copeland. “As a group, students and community members were looking to explain material more cogently to groups of people. We were looking at what stops the discussion from happening,”
According to Copeland, sometimes that’s at the school level.
“State of Virginia SOLs require it’s taught, but they don’t have money for teachers to be trained to teach it,” she said.
Dorman-Andrew, an Elkton native, became interested in the cause after her husband heard a talk on human trafficking, and brought home a brochure on the issue. She learned that she could support the fight against trafficking by selling artisan goods made by survivors, and began selling jewelry made by women in Uganda from her dining room. Questions from customers caused Dorman-Andrew to research the issue more, including its domestic roots. While Dorman-Andrew had meant for it to be a short-term project, the deeper she got into her research, the more invested she became.
In 2015, Dorman-Andrew co-founded the non-profit New Creation with her husband and opened a shop on South Main in a former pornography store. The second location, in the Agora Market, opened three years ago. The shops sell survivor-made goods as well as fair trade products that empower women around the globe through social enterprise. Earrings, necklaces, kids toys, stationary, wallets, candles, tea, and dishcloths are among the offerings. Fifty percent of the nonprofit’s profits comes from shop proceeds, with the other half coming from donors. While a majority of profits go back to artisans, some help fund initiatives like The Prevention Project.
In any given day, Dorman-Andrew can wear many hats. She orders for the shop, designs merchandise, and gives talks at community organizations. She is also a networker for survivors who come in the shop seeking resources ranging from safe shelter to mental health or legal support.
All the while, she continues to advocate for the adoption of The Prevention Program in local schools – an endeavor she feels is critical to the overall mission of New Creation.
“Statistially, the average age someone comes into sex trafficking in the US is 12 years old, which is a 7th-grade, middle school student,” says Dorman-Andrew, referring to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “You get that kind of data, you say if I’m just focusing on (educating the) community (at large), I’m missing the demographic that is being targeted.”
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